In November 1957, the Daily Express changed its headline for Sydney Jordan’s comic strip to Jeff Hawke – First Citizen of the Space Age – a little over a month after Russia had launched the first Earth satellite, Sputnik 1. The Giles cartoon of the day showed two irreverent choristers applying it to their ancient choirmaster, who was struggling to read the paper outside the cloisters of their cathedral. But the belated recognition of Hawke’s return to Earth simply drew attention to the growing problem of consistency. In ‘Time Out of Mind’, the last story of 1959, in the UK Hawke was flying a Victor bomber to further the development of Automatic Landing Systems, while the USA had launched its third mission to the Moon on a large geological survey. When Hawke was summoned to the USA, the ALS tests had moved on to a BOAC ‘Sceptre’ supersonic airliner, and he was met by a police car which could roll at 200 mph ‘without shedding blood’.
Something had to give, and at the end of the story it did so without warning. The change ushered in what the editor of Titan Books told me he considered to be “the classic period of Jeff Hawke”. Readers of Jeff Hawke, Book 1 and Jeff Hawke: Overlord (Titan, 1986 and 2008) can at least see what was coming (Fig. 1), but readers of the Daily Express, seeing one episode at a time, were seriously baffled for a few days, with no idea whether Jeff Hawke as we knew it would continue or not. We suddenly found ourselves in an argument between two demons on Io, the innermost large moon of Jupiter, which prophetically was shown with active volcanoes – not confirmed until the Voyager spacecraft imaged it 20 years later. The taller demon, later known as ‘Mephisto’, was besieged by a smaller one demanding to be told a story on behalf of ourselves, the readers. I quoted Mephisto’s reply (“What you are going to see will be vast…”) in the heading of the ‘world-building’ chapter of my Children from the Sky, in 2012.
This new format was to top-and-tail all the Jeff Hawke stories for the next ten years, until Willie Patterson stopped writing for the strip in 1969. Sydney claims to have been unaware that it portrayed Willie in the senior position, and it wasn’t obvious to the readers because the only story credited to him was ‘Overland’ in 1966, though a ship named the William Patterson had appeared at the beginning of ‘The Helping Hand’ in 1964. What was important about the new format was that it allowed the stories to be episodic, and set at any time between the present day at publication and the end of the century. In ‘The Dream Pedlars’ (1958), Hawke drove an AC Ace sports car, driven by Sydney Jordan in real life; so too the Porsche which Hawke drives in ‘Sitting Tenants’ (1972-73), though it’s described as ‘a vintage jalopy’ in ‘Fairy Land Forlorn’ (1964); and also the Mercedes in ‘The Devil at Rennes-le-Chateau’, a 7-episode afterthought published by A1 Comic in 1991. I have travelled in that car.
There are genuine antiques in other stories, e.g. a Sunbeam Cabriolet, owned by a friend of Sydney Jordan’s, appeared in ‘The Martian Invasion’ and in ‘The Engine that Worked on Grass’ (Fig. 2) – but the D-type Jaguar, which appeared in ‘On the Run’ (1973), was also driven as an antique in 1987 in ‘Selena’ (1972). In almost all the other stories, interleaved with those, Hawke drives a futuristic ‘Turbodyne’ which is capable of 300 mph, when hijacked by an expert in ‘The Helping Hand’, though it displays a judder above 230 when driven on ‘the Exeter Motorway’, and crashed when he pushes it too hard, trying to escape an authentic Westland Wessex police helicopter.
Vintage aircraft also appeared from time to time. The plot of ‘Ghost Errant’ (1966) turned on the restoration of a World War 1 Sopwith Camel, ‘as heroic as a Bronze Age sword!’ (Fig. 3), a D.H.4 appeared in flashbacks to the inter-war years (‘Rip Van Haddow’, 1963, and ‘Antigravity Man’, 1965), and a one-man airline in Peru was still operating a Junkers 52 in ‘Sacrifice’ (1959). A Douglas DC-7C, a Boeing 707 and a Lockheed Jetstar appear in the same story, as does a Peruvian Air Force Canberra. In 1955, the RAF puts up a heroic but useless attempt to stop the incoming Martian invasion with Gloster Javelins, until Jeff Hawke saves their bacon by taking out the power source on Mars (Fig. 4). Hawke travels to Australia in a Canberra early in ‘The Martian Invasion’, and flies one in a search for a missing supersonic transport in ‘Wildcat’ (1966). He flies a Vickers Valiant and an Avro Shackleton in ‘The Opposite Power’ (1956), and a Lockheed Neptune in ‘The Dream Pedlars’ (1958). Continuing with V-bombers, he flies a Victor in ‘Time Out of Mind’ above, hitches a ride on a Super-Victor in ‘Fairy Land Forlorn’ (1964), and talks about flying Super-Vulcans in the same story, though the only time we see a Vulcan is over Farnborough in ‘The Martian Invasion’. Still, at an RAF reunion in ‘The Changeling’ (1963), “I was talking to an old codger the other day who once flew a Vulcan…”
‘Ghost Errant’ is set in the historical present and in it Hawke flies a Beagle 206, while in ‘Cataclysm’ (1968) he’s in a McDonnell-Douglas Phantom, leading a formation of Australian F-111s (the only time we saw him actually leading a squadron). He flies a Super Sabre in ‘The Martian Invasion’, chasing a stolen B-52, and a Hawker Hunter in ‘Unquiet Island’ (1956). In ‘Selena’ (1972), he has a civil version of the Osprey, which was finally entering military service when I wrote it up for The Lunar 10 in 2007. All of this was with support from the RAF, and in several stories Hawke flies aircraft that the RAF probably wished they had: a Canadian Avro Arrow in ‘A Test Case’ (1963), the SR-71 Blackbird in ‘A Foreign Body’ (1964), a Trident converted to a flying laboratory in the same story, the B-70 Valkyrie in ‘The Great Atlantic Crossing’ (1965-66), and in the same story, a jet-and-rocket fighter which the late Ed Buckley described as ‘a cross between TSR-2 and the X-15’ (Fig. 5), which we had glimpsed on the ground in the previous story, ‘The Ambassadors’. It was rocket-boosted to Mach 4 and then cruised on ramjets, though with the capability to switch to conventional jet thrust at lower speed. When the strips were reprinted by the Jeff Hawke Club, Michele Marsan added ‘Hawke’s Wings’ articles discussing the various aircraft, real or imagined.
The RAF had Concordes in ‘S.O.S.’ (1969) and in ‘On the Run’ (1973), while a US SST appeared in ‘Sitting Tenants’ (1972-73). A Concorde in BOAC markings appeared in ‘Cataclysm’ before then, with a normal registration number, unlike the special ones which British Airways adopted. Futuristic airliners regularly appeared in the strip, most of them flown by BOAC, starting with one in ‘The Threat from the Past’, and the twin-hulled BOAC Sceptre in ‘Time Out of Mind’, above. In ‘Uncanny Deep’ (1963-64) BOAC had a rocket airliner, which survived an emergency landing in the Atlantic and sinking on to the top of a seamount on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Much the same happened to a Boeing 747 is the film Airport ‘77 (Fig. 6), and I didn’t believe it there either. Airline hulls are designed to keep pressure in, not out.
A subsonic Soviet VTOL transport, in ‘Sitting Tenants’, was actually the Hawker Siddeley HS 141, a proposal unveiled in Hanover in April 1970. It would carry 100-120 passengers at over 600 mph, with a range of 500 miles. Wing-root nacelles would house powerful RB 202 fanjets for vertical takeoff. But in STOL mode, using a 1000-foot runway for takeoff, its range could be extended to 1350 miles, “enabling the aircraft to cover an extensive network of European operations from the Baltic to the Mediterranean”. (Michael Latham, ed., Raymond Baxter and James Burke, Tomorrow’s World, BBC, 1970.) Its Wikipedia entry concludes, “Despite the work and funds that Hawker Siddeley had expended, the lack of enthusiasm for civil VTOL operations combined with the cancellation of the lift engine development, doomed the project.”
But when it came to space operations, the flexibility of the ‘classic’ formula really showed. One of the few elements to remain constant throughout was the British wheel-type space station, rebuilt after destruction of the first one (Fig. 7) by the Martians. The Americans had a number of them (Fig. 8), all similar to the Von Braun/Chesley Bonestell one of Across the Space Frontier, edited by Cornelius Ryan (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1952). The design of the British one changed slightly for ‘Winner Lose All’ (1964, Fig. 9), which was recognisably based on John Schoenherr’s cover for Analog in October 1963 (Fig. 10).
The Soviet space station (Fig. 8) was a dumb-bell with a nuclear reactor on the end of the stalk – basically Arthur C. Clarke’s design for a nuclear-powered Earth-Mars spaceship, depicted by R.A. Smith in The Exploration of Space (Temple Press, 1951 – Fig. 11), with the engine taken off. Clarke describes a voyage on it in his novel The Sands of Mars (1951), views of it in Mars orbit are among Wolff’s illustrations for Worlds in Space, (see Part 1), and David A. Hardy painted it in Earth orbit and touching down on Deimos (Patrick Moore and David Hardy, 50 Years in Space, Artists’ and Photographers’ Press, 2006). The Martians boosted up its reactor past meltdown stage into ‘a miniature sun’, killing everyone aboard.
One surprise of ‘Winner Lose All’ was that the British space station still followed the doctrine of Wernher von Braun in the early 1950s, that peace on Earth could be ensured by nations with missile bases in space. In ‘Winner Lose All’ it proves pathetically vulnerable to takeover by a minor South American dictatorship, and the day is saved only by a has-been Labour politician, trying to rebuild his credibility, who’s visiting the station and makes use of his background as a communications technician. But writers including Martin Caidin had shown how easily such a station could be destroyed by missiles launched in the opposite direction, or even by a handful of bolts, come to that. Even sand launched vertically into the path of the station would be enough to rip it to shreds, meeting it at 5 miles per second.
Much of the hardware in the early stories was inspired by the work of Wernher von Braun and Chesley Bonestell. The spacecraft which takes Hawke to rescue the US lunar mission in ‘Time Out of Mind’ was recognisably inspired by the ones in the late 1950s TV series Men Into Space and the book by Murray Leinster (Fig. 12). Bonestell did a series of paintings illustrating them which appeared on the covers of Fantasy & Science Fiction, as well as in the book Man and the Moon, edited by the astronomer Robert S. Richardson (World Publishing Company, 1961). The last Bonestell-inspired story was ‘Pass the Parcel’ (1963), in which the winged Mars landers and return rockets were recognisable from von Braun’s Das Mars-Projekt, von Braun, Ley and Bonestell’s The Exploration of Mars (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1956), and the George Pal film The Conquest of Space (Paramount, 1955) – see ‘Howlers in Space’, Part 3, ON, October 9th 2022.
Thereafter actual space vehicles provided much of the inspiration. In ‘Anti-Gravity Man’ (1965), Britain was flying to the space station with a ‘Woden’ booster very similar to Saturn I, with Gemini-like capsules (Fig. 13 – and yes, that is a Mini that you see before you); by ‘Winner Lose All’ it had become obsolescent enough for one to fall into the hands of a rogue nation. The spacecraft of ‘Moonstruck’ (1964) were inspired by early mock-ups of the Apollo Lunar Module. NASA lends the RAF a Space Shuttle in ‘The First Person Plural’ (1974), and a Heavy Lift booster proposed by Boeing as its successor (Fig. 14) begins the journey to the Moon in ‘Selena’ (1972). In ‘The Winds of Mars’ (1975), set in 1992, the expedition was based on NASA’s plans for NERVA nuclear-powered missions, though the programme had been cancelled by the Nixon administration in 1973.
But those stories were interspersed with ones where human capabilities in space were much greater. The Moonbase, which was complete and self-sustaining in ‘Pastmaster’ (1961), was under construction in ‘Moonstruck’ three years later. In ‘Out of Touch’ (1957-58, written by Harry Harrison), the United Nations had established a base on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, using chemically fuelled ships, and sent an ion-drive warship after them for protection on the frontier. In ‘Overlord’ (see above) the UN likewise sent a flotilla of chemically fuelled ships to Jupiter. In ‘Rogue Star’ (1968) Hawke led the first expedition to Mars for the fifth time in a nuclear-thermal rocket; another appeared in ‘The Bees on Daedalus’ (1971). In 1969 Sydney Jordan had illustrated a nuclear-electric Mars ship with plasma engines for a Daily Express article (Fig. 15), and that subsequently turned up over Pluto in ‘Here Be Tygers’ (1971-72, Fig. 16), and among the moons of Jupiter in ‘Moratorro’ (1975).
For new readers, the changes must have been confusing, and the interludes with the two demons probably weren’t much help. Things might have got clearer after Willie Patterson retired due to ill-health in 1969, and Sydney Jordan began to introduce the later stories in his own persona, but in 1974 the Daily Express decided to terminate the strip, giving Sydney only a few days in which to wind up the current story, ‘The First Person Plural’, He did it by bringing back the Shining Ones (see Part 1), without their flying saucer, who renewed their promise that someday Hawke would ‘dwell with us among the stars’.
That wasn’t the end of the story, however, because there were three more Hawke stories in the pipeline. The Scottish Daily News printed one in full and started another, and they continued in syndication overseas. Meanwhile, at the instigation of the late Chris Boyce, the Daily Record had commissioned a new strip from Sydney called Lance McLane, in which the central character was Surgeon-Commander on a starship, 100 years in the future – 2076, by the time it began. The backstory was even more dramatic than the first Hawke story’s had been. A huge explosion on the Sun had released a ball of plasma ‘almost as massive as the Earth’, which grazed the Earth-Moon system, forcing the Moon into a near-impact with the Earth which knocked a huge divot off it, forming a ring of debris around the planet and changing the orbit of both. Much of Earth’s surface was swept by tsunamis before being covered with ice, leaving only a clear zone round the equator in which a few POCS (Post-Collision Survivors) managed to hang on. When the late Ian Davidson commissioned me to write an article on ‘Science Fiction Disasters’ for Nuclear Free Scotland (Spring 1990), I reproduced the flashback sequence with the heading ‘Nothing Trivial, I Hope’ (Fig. 17).
The plasma event seemed to be physically impossible, but in 2016 it was found that the giant star X Hydrae was emitting just such ‘plasma cannonballs’, about the mass of Mars, due to passages of a companion neutron star through its outer layers. To do that with the Sun would take a mini-black hole at least, and raised suspicions that the event might not have been an accident (see ‘Howlers that Weren’t’, ON, 2nd April 2023). The stories ‘Song of the Charioteer’ (1978), ‘Frozen Assets’ (1982) and ‘Virus!’ (1986) combined to put ‘the Magicians of Anachoreta’ in the frame for it, though Sydney Jordan insists that he had no idea that the story-line was trending in that direction.
The starships Faith, Hope and Charity (Fig. 18) had been about to leave for ‘Far Centaurus’, but stayed to hold what was left of civilisation together. (‘Frozen Assets’ revealed that they were supposed to have left before the disaster, showing that somebody made it happen, or at least knew it was coming.) Looking at the performance figures (Mars to Earth in 14 days) quoted for the Hope in the first story, ‘Final Frontier’, I realised that it could only be using pulsed fusion like the British Interplanetary Society’s interstellar probe study, ‘Project Daedalus’, which was still ongoing at the time (final version published in 1978 and recently re-released in book form). None of the possible future propulsion systems (nuclear thermal, solid or gas-core; nuclear fusion; ion or plasma drives) could match it, and other possible interstellar systems (photon drive, interstellar ramscoop) were too powerful. When I checked that with Gerry Webb of the Project Daedalus team, he replied, “Oh yes, within the Solar System Daedalus is pure Flash Gordon in its potential”. Sydney Jordan put the attribution in as a flashback near the end of ‘The Phoenix at Easter’ (Fig. 19). Once again, he may have been working better than he knew: the Daedalus team proposed to extract the 50,000 tons of deuterium and helium-3, needed as fuel, from the atmosphere of Jupiter (see ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Waverider Part 2’, ON. September 5th 2021 and December 4th 2022). In the stories ‘The Achene on Amalthea’ and ‘Chalk Circle’ the starships were in the Jupiter system for no apparent reason, but now it was obvious that they were there to refuel.
Meanwhile the syndication of the last Hawke stories was nearing its end, and the overseas buyers were putting pressure on the Daily Express. Sydney Jordan was fully committed to Lance McLane and didn’t have time to draw two daily strips for six days per week. The solution adopted was extraordinary. In the final episode of the last Hawke story, ‘Heir Apparent!’, coming back to Earth from Procyon, the starship Hawke is on is struck by a mini-black hole, dragging him out into space. The Shining Ones convene once more, concluding that Hawke’s life-line is not yet played out, and reincarnate him as the Surgeon-Commander on a starship, stepping seamlessly into Lance McLane’s shoes in just two episodes of the sixth story, ‘The Woman Who Would Be King’. Overseas readers seem to have coped with the transition, because the strip continued without a break. Scots readers had no idea it had happened, and Sydney Jordan didn’t mention it to me till decades later, so for the last 10 years of Lance McLane I was fulfilling a lifetime’s ambition to write for Jeff Hawke, without knowing it. In 2016 the Jeff Hawke Club reprinted the first five stories in book form as Earthspace, changing ‘McLane’ to ‘Hawke’ throughout, for consistency with the rest as they were publishing them – but abandoning continuity, because all five were set before the Shining Ones catapulted Hawke into the position.
Lance McLane ran as a continuous narrative, like the early Hawke, with preludes and codas overlapping the stories currently running. There was no opportunity for the humour of the earlier strip, nor for alternative time-lines. Surprises mostly came from under the ice, or were existing situations which had been interrupted. In ‘Pharaoh’s Army Got Drownded’, a terrorist attack on the Channel Tunnel had been frustrated when it flooded. In ‘The Shark in the Clear Air’, a chance flyby activated a weapons platform which had been concealed in Australia’s Northern Territories, in anticipation of invasion from the north. In ‘Basebuilder’, a huge machine which had been awaiting launch in Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building fell into the hands of a militant group. In ‘A Night Remembered’, the cataclysm had thrown the wreck of the Titanic up on the coast of North America, where it was covered by ice, but not for long.
Visitors from space allowed more variety. In ‘The Phoenix at Easter’, for example, the Pacific off Easter Island was struck by what appeared to be a meteorite – until another one was found below, waiting to be let out. More of them turned up in ‘The Nest of the Phoenix’, and the Hope went a light-year out of the Solar System to look for their source. Coming back, she answered a signal from what proved to be a comet overgrown with trees (see ‘Comets, Part 4’, ON, January 2nd 2022), and so the continuous narrative went on. For ‘The Phoenix at Easter’ I supplied ‘Hawke’s Wings’ on the VESSEL (see ON December 4th 2022), and for ‘Sails in the Red Sunset’, another on Gordon Ross’s Dick-Dick Mars aircraft (see ‘Sailplanes on Mars’, ON, July 5th 2022). All seemed well in 1987, when I found a new source of inspiration for stories in the Glasgow jazz scene (ON, September 17th, 2023). And then the Daily Record hired a new strips page editor who didn’t like serials, and suddenly in mid-May 1988, in the middle of that year’s Mayfest, the 34-year history of the strip came abruptly to an end. Or so it seemed.
Between 2003 and 2020, all the Jeff Hawke stories have been reprinted by the Jeff Hawke Club – for details see their website, www.jeffhawkeclub.co.uk. On 6th October 2023 ‘The Art of Sydney Jordan, Dream Pedlar’ exhibition opened in the Tower Foyer Gallery, Tower Building, University of Dundee, DD1 4HN (Fig. 20), and will be there to 22nd December (closed 14th October due to electrical work in the Tower), from 11.00 a.m. to 16.00 p.m. BST, and from 09.30 a.m. from November on, closed from 23rd December to 2nd January, and open again until 6th January.
(To be continued)